Words only make up a small amount of the meaning of your message; non-verbal communication plays a huge role in our reading of what you are saying.
How often have you said to someone "how are you" to be met with "I'm fine" when everything about their body language and voice tells you that they are far from fine.
On occasions like this, where what someone is saying doesn't match how they are saying it, our brains will believe the non-verbal signals rather than the words.
After all, we were reading these long before we started using language when we were running around chasing sabre tooth tigers.
When trying to read people's body language it's important not to get hooked up on one thing.
Like if someone has their arms crossed then they are being defensive.
In reality, they may be cold, comfortable like that, hiding a stain on their shirt, whatever!
What you need to be aware of is a cluster of behaviours, which can help you, read a situation.
This is not hard.
Mostly it means practising not going with your first thought or knee-jerk reaction.
Perhaps by using a follow-up question.
"How are you?"
"Anything going on for you at the moment?"
Also, you can look out for congruent behaviour, where the behaviour seems in line with the language.
Only when it seems out of sync should you be concerned about anything being wrong.
By Sara Jordan
Communication Skills Training
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